Hong Kong demands democracy
Hong Kong voters strongly supported democratic rule in the city’s recent elections. They showed, in the words of Legislative Council member Margaret Ng, that they “want the China we believe in to be democratic, open and to respect freedoms.” That message could become infectious throughout China. But Hong Kong voters will have an uphill battle against a voting system rigged by Beijing’s autocrats.
Hong Kong’s constitution continues to favor China’s efforts to control the officially autonomous local government. And few law-making bodies have as complicated an electoral system as Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. The rules were established when China took over the former British colony in 1997. They assign half of the 70 legislative seats to “functional” constituencies — business, professional, agricultural and labor union interests, for example — that China’s government feels confident of controlling. Two hundred and forty thousand voters choose those seats. The remaining 3.6 million Hong Kong voters get to choose the remaining 35 seats.
The 2012 Hong Kong elections left pro-Beijing parties in control of the legislature. But pro-democracy groups, though divided into competing factions, won 60 percent of the popular vote to gain 27 of the 70 available seats and prevent a rollback of existing political rights.
The next hurdle for pro-democracy groups is to steer the legislature toward making good the promise that by 2017 the chief executive could be chosen by universal suffrage. If Beijing opposes the move to full democracy, Hong Kong could be in for a turbulent future.
But if Hong Kong can prevail on the road to real democracy, it may show the way to the rest of China. And it will underscore the importance of “people power” in the movement toward representative government.